It’s been a slow shift from first to second gear for the Can-Am Spyder. When Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP)—a privately owned company spun off from the plane and train manufacturer—launched its three-wheeled motorcycle in 2007, no one knew what to make of it. Still, it generated lots of buzz, and BRP hoped to use the momentum to take itself public. Then the financial crisis zapped consumers, and the market for flashy $27,000 toys dried up. Now, with people spending again, BRP is heavily advertising the Spyder on TV in a bet consumers are finally ready to be conspicuously visible on three wheels.
The company has been working quietly over the last three years to build its dealer network and establish a small base of dedicated riders, says Yves Leduc, BRP’s vice-president for North America. There are numerous online forums devoted to the vehicle, and local chapters of Spyder riders have sprung up around the world. The company also convinced the Quebec government to create a new type of licence for three-wheeled vehicles that’s easier to obtain than a traditional motorcycle licence—something it hopes to do in other provinces and states. “We took a low-key viral approach because we wanted to create a community first,” he says. “When you invent a new product category, you need to be patient.”
Still, with just 15,000 riders in North America, this new push is an attempt to take the Spyder mainstream. In the past the company has marketed the Spyder to power-sport enthusiasts who buy BRP’s ski-doos and jet skis, as well as older motorcyclists who are no longer comfortable on two wheels. (On one online forum, a rider in the U.S. complained his Jitterbug cellphone wouldn’t sync with his GPS.)
With the recent launch of a new touring model, BRP hopes to cast an even wider net for riders. “We took a big risk by creating this product,” says Leduc. “Many companies have toyed with the idea of a three-wheeled vehicle, but never dared to come out with one. We did.” Now it just has to convince people to buy them.